Saam, Hong Kong: School daze


Saam sits halfway up Graham Street, a steep incline that seems a perfect barometer for the Hong Kong restaurant industry. Some places have quickly come and gone, some have remained and become old favourites, while others can’t seem to be able to make their mind up.

It’s a slightly odd name but Saam is the Afrikaans word for ‘together’. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Patrick Dang, a compact space, quite dark but the walls lifted by the quirky colours of Brazilian artist Romero Britto. (As a result most of the photos below are PR shots – as if you couldn’t tell)

Saam Hong KongI was invited along with some other food writers to try their special themed tasting menu, ‘A school day’. The tasting menu changes every two months, so this one runs until the end of October.

As this launched in September, their schtick is to create a meal based on childhood food favourites with a serious twist. In theory, it sounds like a recipe for confused mash-ups, or worse. In truth, almost all the dishes work well and manage to retain a sense of playfulness without getting too convoluted.

Kicking off proceedings is ‘Nutella & Toast’. The beloved Ferrero Rocher staple here is truffle panna cotta with cocoa, served with scallop crudo sashimi, crispy bread and a hazelnut foam. It’s a really unusual combination, neither sweet nor nutty, but somehow works together as the subtle chocolate notes meet the bread and hazelnut foam.Saam Hong Kong“Cereal & Yogurt” brings a foie gras parfait that has been cooked sous vide, before being mixed with savoury home made granola. Dots of almond yoghurt and peppered pineapple accompany. It sounds all kinds of wrong, but against the odds tastes all kinds of right. It’s decadent and creamy, indisputably foie gras, but taken somewhere else by the topping. Nuts indeed.Saam Hong KongThe eyes deceive again with ‘Sausage and egg’ where the egg is coconut infused with lemongrass and the yolk made from pumpkin purée flavoured with madras curry.  The sausage (a round one, US style) is made from lobster. But of course it is. Saam Hong KongThe risk with this kind of food is that style quickly outweighs substance, that the gimmick wears off, but Saam and Patrick Dang continue to successfully walk that tightrope.

“Fish and Chip” means marinated and poached Atlantic turbot. It’s an eye-wateringly expensive fish, but with good reason as the flavour and resistance to the fork are like few others. The chip is a crispy potato baked with vinegar powder, served on crushed green peas. The tartare sauce, one of God’s greatest inventions, is mostly lost on me as it is served deep fried.Saam Hong KongThe procession continues with a ‘Gluten free noodle soup’ in a nod to Hong Kong school days. The noodles are actually made from chicken, served in an excellent broth featuring abalone and Chinese ham, alongside a shitake mushroom dumpling. It’s clever, pretty and thoughtful, even if the texture of the chicken is a little disconcerting.

Saam Hong KongThe final dish was the ‘School roast dinner’. Wagyu short rib – there it is again, the must-have Hong Kong dish of 2015 – alongside a long potato fry and vegetables. Unfortunately the advertised ‘umami gravy’ was MIA in my dish.

Saam Hong KongIf you do make it through to the finale, dessert is a de/re-constructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The seven-course tasting menu costs HK$788, while wine pairings are an additional HK$348. There’s also a five-course tasting menu option.

The Saam website features a slightly odd mission statement about their approach, including the desire to ‘celebrate the delicate tension between polarities’. Hmmm. But if you’re up for a quirky and unusual evening of culinary surprises, then Saam could be the ticket. One thing Dang certainly doesn’t lack is imagination.

Saam, G/F, 51D, Graham Street, SoHo. Tel: +852 2645 9828